Dawkins is the Devil – lying for jeebus…

Previously I mentioned about how Ruth Gledhill had monumentally missed the point with her TimesOnline blog post about the latest Humanist campaign to try and stop people labelling their children without given them a choice.

It seems Ruth is not the only person who has missed the point (for example Jacqui’s comment on my previous post) but, as is often the case, the commenters on her post really set a new standard. I have tried a few times to leave comments on the Times article, but they never seem to make it past moderation…which makes it even more bizarre that these comments have made it through.

The one which really made me laugh was from Iain Carstairs (posted 0725AM, 21 Nov 09). It begins:

Dawkins is a fanatic, true, but he is a more dangerous one than a religious zealot.

Wow. Call the Whitehouse and MOD. Get all the troops back from Afghanistan and prepare to invade Oxfordshire (or where ever Dawkins is living now). The War on Terror was obviously a mistake (“at last!” I hear you cry) and now we need to begin the War on Thinking. (OK, I agree, this has already been going on for centuries in some places).

Joking aside, this is nonsense. But it continues:

A suicide bomber can kill a small crowd, and hardline Christians have been known to shoot abortionists. The Israelis are steadily dehumanising the Palestinians, and are on their way to exterminating them: with the blessing of the US and the UK of course.

No, seriously? With this in mind (if we think of the WTC and Madrid as being a “small crowd”) then the whole furore about terrorism is nonsense. Sadly, I agree, but for different reasons.

But Dawkins is attempting to remove the spiritual dimension from life. It is as if he is attempting to prise the eyeballs out of a billion sockets, simply because there is no scientific proof of God.

ZOMG!! Oh Noes!11!!!1!1! Dawkins is making people THINK. Evil, pure evil. Torture in fact. Wont anybody think of the children. (and so on)

This is so crazy it almost defies belief (puns intended). This is a common misconception from people who are blinded by their belief – they ignore the true majesty of the universe and the beauty that life demonstrates. Look at the deep field pictures from Hubble for examples. They take this grand beauty of nature and spoil it by creating an invisible puppeteer who controls every action for some unknown, yet unarguably cruel, purpose. This is not allowing people to see the beauty of nature, but a cruel way of blinding them and controlling their actions. It is evil.

After some more of this drivel, Iain finishes with:

Without spirituality, we become Dawkins’ descendants: hoodies, yobs, sociopaths.. the greedy and addicted children of materialism, who make this world a living Hell.

Wow. Lets look at this again. The hoodies, yobs and sociopaths that Iain refers to are not “Dawkin’s descendants” they are growing up in the time of Dawkins. At best their children could be described as Dawkin’s descendants as its only in the last couple of years that Dawkins has been in the public domain.

The children who “terrorise” the communities inhabited by Mail readers (and presumably Times readers) are from families where, on the whole, belief still remains prominent. The vast majority of greedy and addicted materialists are religious.

Lying for Jesus is still lying.

Please dont label me

As I am sure most of you are aware (I am still catching up from my travels – lots of strange things have happened while I have been away), there is a new poster campaign:

Please dont label me

Please dont label me

The idea behind this comes from Dawkins, writing in The God Delusion (and a zillion places elsewhere):

There is no such thing as a Christian child: only a child of Christian parents. … Catholic child? Flinch. Protestant child? Squirm. Muslim child? Shudder. Everybody’s consciousness should be raised to this level.

This strikes me (obviously) as making complete sense. As the oft-quoted remarks go we wouldnt describe a three year old as a “marxist child” or any other combination of their parents interests, hobbies and beliefs. We find that normal, while ignoring the oddity of treating “Muslim Child” as normal.

Part of this may be to do with the fact parents who have faith in a particular belief system will begin indoctrinating their children at a very early age. So, for example, children from a devout Catholic family will have learned their prayers by the time they can talk. However, this is not the same as making the informed choice to adopt that belief system. It is telling that religious groups put so much effort into catching children when they are young (and more susceptible to crazy stories about invisible people living in the clouds), hoping to force their ideas to such an extent that a minority stray from the fold – notably, most converts from one cult religion to another turn out to hold extreme views as that is what is needed to break the shackles.

So, that said, it is obvious why the BHA (et al) want a campaign like this, and obvious why religious groups are opposed to it (as always). The idea that children are given a free choice is comical at the best of times – atheist parents will try to leave their children to make up their own minds, while religious groups (under state sponsorship in the UK*) will try to convert them; meanwhile religious parents will continue to indoctrinate. What this poster campaign does, however, is educate adults. It brings the double standards we practice in daily life into public view. Painful it maybe, but this is a good thing.

With that background out of the way, there is an interesting post on Ruth Gledhill’s blog, on TimesOnline:

The two children chosen to front Richard Dawkins’ latest assault on God could not look more free of the misery with which he associates religious baggage.
With the slogan “Please don’t label me. Let me grow up and choose for myself”, the two children, their hair flying and with broad grins, seem to be the perfect advertisement for the new atheism being promoted by Professor Dawkins and the British Humanist Association.
Except that they are about as far from atheism as it is possible to be. The Times can reveal that Charlotte, 8, and Ollie, 7, are from one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.
Their father, Brad Mason, is something of a celebrity within evangelical circles as the drummer for the popular Christian musician Noel Richards.

I am not sure, exactly, what the motivation behind this item was, but it seems to be massively missing the point while proving the whole reason behind the campaign. It is hard, to work out where to begin with this, it all just seems a bit misguided.

First off: The pictures are from a stock photo gallery. When they were chosen there was no “background check” (despite how much we get off on that sort of thing in the UK) carried out and nor should there be. Can you imagine if iStockPhoto (or the like) demanded to know the religious background of any of its models. Rightfully, newspapers like the times would be outraged.

Secondly: Some minor “celeb” (dont make me laugh) drummer for a (ahem) popular Christian musician does not make them “one of Britain’s most devout Christian families.” That is just meaningless words where Ruth has lowered herself to a tabloid standard while trying to mock the post campaign. Its comically pointless.

Thirdly: This underscores the need for the campaign. These children are aged 8 and 7. They are too young to vote, drink alcohol, drive, own a gun, smoke, etc. They are below the age of criminal responsibility so they cant, legally, be held accountable for their actions. They can not, in any way, have made the concious, informed decision to commit to a religion. They are not “Christian Children” but “Children of Christian Parents.” Ruth seems to massively miss this point, but it not her worst blunder here.

Lastly: Where does it say they are, or should be, atheist children? The idea is not that only atheist children are happy, it is not that all children are atheists (although they are born that way), it is that we should stop labelling them. There is nothing wrong with having “children of Christian parents” on the campaign poster. This is a campaign that, should, be equally supported by every religion. It gives a greater chance for Christians to “save” children from Muslim, Hindu or Jewish families – sadly for them the opposite is true.

All Ruth has done with her post is show how quickly we fall into the trap of labelling children based on what ever ideas their parents have. No mention is made of the children being interviewed, just their father who appears to be speaking on their behalf.

Obviously you can be too young to think for yourself, but not too young to believe…….

I have missed this level of irony during my travels.

[EDITED TO ADD]

It seems great minds think alike :-) and The Freethinker has taken the times to task over this madness.

[END EDIT]

* yes, I know you can ask for your child to be excluded from communal prayer and other religious based teachings, but Religious Education is still mandatory and, in reality, who would want their child to be singled out for the dreaded “special treatment” in front of their school mates. It must be torture. On the positive side, mandatory RE / prayer never managed to even come close to convincing me, or anyone I went to school with, that God exists….

Let there be no light

I am overawed by the predictive power of Leviticus, if I’m right in thinking that that’s the book that set the rules for orthodox jews.

As far as I can make out, from this BBC story, (Light sensors cause religious row) orthodox jews aren’t allowed to see by electric light on holy days.

A couple have taken legal action after claiming motion sensors installed at their holiday flat in Dorset breached their rights as Orthodox Jews.
Gordon and Dena Coleman said they cannot leave or enter their Bournemouth flat on the Sabbath because the hallway sensors automatically switch on lights.
The couple’s religious code bans lights and other electrical equipment being switched on during Jewish holidays.

I can’t understand the problem, here. If the hallway sensors detect that it’s dark – the outside world will have street lighting, surely.

So the litigious couple can’t go in the street anyway, as far as I can see. Because then they would be in non-kosher electric light anyway….

Unless street-lighting doesn’t count because those lights are already on when the couple leave their home. In which case, I suggest that they trick the sensors and just switch the lights on permanently in advance of any jewish holiday… Lateral thinking, hey?.

Did Leviticus ban all electric light? Or just proscribe electric light switches and motion sensors but say some lights were acceptably kosher?

As I said at the beginning – this rulebook seems so amazingly farsighted. There must have been real prophets at work, if they foresaw electric lighting a few thousand years ago. Is there anything in there about when we get the jetpacks?

Religious Ironies

Excommunication doesn’t seem much of a sanction to non-believers, granted, but it’s a bit rough for Catholics. It seems you can do just about anything and still remain a Catholic, from holocaust denial (you can apparently even be a bishop, in that case) to taking part in mass murder in Rwanda.

However, what you can’t do and remain incommunicated is arrange an abortion for a Brazilian nine-year-old who was pregnant with twins, after being raped by her stepfather.

In fact, having sane social views can also get you suspended as a priest in Brazil, if not completely excommunicated.

It appears that Father Couto landed in trouble with the Church authorities because of an interview that he gave to a local newspaper defending the use of condoms as a matter of public health. (from the BBC)

Unlike the more senior Brazilian Catholic church hierarchy…

…. He has received threats to his life in the past for his opposition to death squads that operate in the north east of Brazil.

So, it appears that being genuinely “pro-life” – in any sense of the word that doesn’t mean “supporting breeding, whatever the human cost” – can get you into trouble in the Catholic Church.

But death squads, AIDS deaths and raped children are just part of god’s unquestionable plan.

The second set of ironies come from yet another church shooting in the US.

A week ago, the Guardian’s Saturday magazine had an seemingly-interminable parade of born-again American christians talking about their firepower. (That “Turn the other cheek” stuff really must be too fragile to survive the rebirthing process.) The piece was clearly just there to make us English people feel smug.

I remembered an old post that I did here about Wingnut daily and its claim that going armed into church would just make worshippers safer.

This referred to a book called “Shooting Back” published by Worldnet Daily itself, the message of which seems to revolve around always having a revolver. Even – or indeed, especially – in church.

What would you do if armed terrorists broke into your church and starting attacking your friends with automatic weapons in the middle of a worship service?

Well. oddly, this seems to be a not-unheard of occurence, now. But, surprise, surprise, they aren’t organised “armed terrorists” but good old traditional yankee “lone gunman” figures. The very people who are claiming that it’s their inalienable human right to bear arms, no less.

It’s been a while since I underwent the reading-wingnut-daily experience. Scanning its ugly intro page, I spotted a link to a piece of nonsense in our old friend, the English Daily Mail.

Which was unsurprising, given that as soon as I looked at the worldnet daily site content, I saw the extreme wing of the Daily Mail’, with its trademark mix of political scare stories and crackpot health stories.

OK, worldnet daily doesn’t have the Mail’s prurient celeb stories with its daily fake concern about starlet x’s love life or singer y’s bulimia problems. But then, the Mail doesn’t have the insane nonsense about Obama’s being a secret muslim or not being a really American. So, on balance, I think this is – for once – a win for the Daily Mail and its acres of celebri-toss. If it didn’t have that, it could easily tip over into worldnettery and then the UK would be in serious trouble.

FSTDT Lives

I’ve been away for a while, so it was with shock, horror and sadness I realised that FSTDT had died, but it was joy when I realised it had been resurrected.

The posts can now be found at FSTDT.net, although it is still very rough and ready. As you can see, the look and feel has remained, but the new system means there are a lot less quotes getting through. IMHO this is both good and bad, in the past some pretty un-fundie quotes were being approved, but at least you were getting a lot of comedy. Now it seems like there is only going to be a quote or two each day. With the restrictions placed on moderation, there is also a good chance that only quotes from known-regular-fundies will make it though – everyone else is scared of approving non-fundie, non-funny stuff. Hopefully none of this will transpire and my pathetic attempts at prediction will remain pathetic.

A few other things I don’t like about the changes are – the lack of any ability to edit your own posts; the difficulty in getting back to the post index/archives after you have viewed a comment and the lack of apparent monthly threading. It is possible that Distind is going to address these points, so time will tell.

For now, however, it remains a fantastic source of idiocy and witty comments. It also remains pretty much the only source of online comedy images I have:

Skepticism

(hat tip: FSTDT Refugee Forum)

Darwin and the Tree of Life

Possibly the best “educational” program I have seen on television in as long as I can remember. Better than Michio Kaku, better than all the discovery channel shows, better than all the rest.

I am talking about a wonderful BBC1 program – Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life – which has just finished. If you missed it, I cant stress how much you really should watch this on iPlayer. It is a part-Open University funded education program, supported by an interesting BBC Darwin website, where you can catch a glimpse of the program if it isnt on the iPlayer yet.

In a nutshell, David Attenborough shows his fantastic qualities as a presenter and takes the viewer on a tour through the history of the theory of evolution. He is genuinely enthusiastic about the science and has a presentational style that is unmatched. I was actually saddened at one point in the program, when I realised that 30 years ago people were more accepting of evolution and our place in the world than they are today. Thanks to the idiocy of fundamentalist religion we really are going back in time.

Attenborough calmly and politely mocks the ideas that all species were created as they are with no change and gives a wonderful (if brief) example of how the eye is a good example of evolution at work. It is all well done and while the hardened scientist may object at some simplification, this is a program which explains evolution in an hour for the general public. To that end some abbreviation of the tree of life is understandable.

Sadly, the BBC website sort of undermines Attenborough’s fantastic work with this line:

David shares his personal view on Darwin’s controversial idea.

Now, while it was indeed controversial in the 1860′s it is now valid science with solid evidential backing. The controversy is not real. Implying it is still there plays into the hands of the idiots and anti-educationalists. Shame really.

This program shows that, despite its faults, the BBC really can pull it out of the bag when it comes to “important” programs.

When religion really is to blame

As anyone who reads FSTDT will know, Yahoo! Answers provides rich pickings when it comes to bizarre, crazy and downright wierd religious viewpoints. While idly browsing through it, I noticed a question asking “During the middle ages, how many were killed because they questioned the loving and kind Catholic Church?” (See original question thread)

Having a passing hobby interest in medieval history, this question appealed to me, so I read through some of the answers. A lot were standard Yahoo-fare, for example the “best answer” claims 150 million died, which seems a bit odd compared to the population of Europe in the middle-ages.  While sources are a bit made up, Wikipedia claims the population of medieval Europe peaked at about 100 million in the early part of the fourteenth century. This requires some interesting mental arithmetic to make the two sets of numbers add up, even if the 150 million deaths were spread out over 300 years.

However, the one that caught my interest the most was from Misty0408, and it makes quite a few points I would like to address here: [emphasis mine throughout quotes]

Crusades or Inquisition?

It’s easy in hindsight to judge a time and society we no longer experience or understand.

I agree with this to an extent as our ideas of what is “right” and “wrong” do change over time. This is not always a path from a “bad past” to a “good present/future” though, sometimes we take a few steps back. Crucially, there isn’t any real point to judging the past – we cant change it and we cant (for example) punish the Romans for keeping slaves.

I may have misread the question, and know nothing of the person who asked it, but I didn’t really think it was trying to judge the past. This made me think that Misty0408 might have a few axes to grind.

The Crusades were a series of defensive battles against Muslim attacks. They were not organized and run by the Church, but tended to be upstart groups of Catholics who took things into their own hands. Many non-believers joined in to reap the benefits of pillaging. There was no telephone, email, text messaging, etc. to get word out and tell people to stop. It took time for the Pope to know what was going on, and time for word to get back to those who had run amok.

Interesting. This also seems pretty much 180 degrees from the history lessons I remember. So much so that this cant be a simple lack of education, this is someone wilfully taught an incorrect sequence of events.

Pope Urban II instigated the crusades. This is the fairly famous quote he made in the call to arms:

All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion!

All the crusades were blessed by the Papacy. This is a far cry from the idea that the pope was busy running around trying to put a stop to the brutality.

It strikes me as a bit dishonest to claim that the church was not the organiser of the Crusades – yes the Crusading nobles will have gone through the actual logistics, but the Pope ordered them to and offered forgiveness for all their sins if they went.

The Inquisitions were also driven, in part, by the society and times in which they happened. Civil law and Church law were linked. If you spoke heresy you were condemned by civil law to die…not by the Church. In fact, in many cases the Church worked to get people to recant their heretical statements to save them from death. Death sentences were carried out by the civil authorities.

Again, some reasonable truth mixed with weirdness. The inquisitions were indeed driven by the time and society – however this society was intrinsically Catholic. Civil and Church law were mixed, yes, but this didn’t mean secular rules got mixed in with the religious ones. It basically meant that the Church set the law. The idea that heretics were condemned to die by secular authorities and not the church is batshit insane. Yes the Church worked to get people to recant, but not to save them from death. If the Church hadn’t declared some statements heretical (and demanded death as the punishment) I would agree they were not complicit in the torture. How on Earth can heresy even be a crime by secular standards?

While death sentences were indeed carried out by the civil authorities, they were given the moral authority to do so by the Church. The Church can not wash its hands of the crimes because the pope did not burn each heretic personally.

Its true, that at that time, the Church thought that a good way to deal with heretics was to torture them, and force them to recant. The Church has since apologized for this.

That makes it OK then.

But again, we see this error in hindsight. The medieval times were violent times for the entire society. Most punishments for breaking the law involved sentences we consider barbaric today. People were hanged in public, drawn and quartered etc. This was the society.

So why did the church apologise? How does this sliding scale of moral values lie with an inerrant word of God being handed down to the heads of the Church?

If the Church felt it was in keeping with Scripture at the time, what has changed?

The Spanish Inquistition was state ministry, not papal organization. Blaming Popes for deeds of Spanish Inquistition is incorrect. However kings of Spain used Dominicans (catholic order) as judges etc. because clergy (especially mentioned monks) were genarally far more educated than ordinal people.

Wow. An even bigger dose of madness wrapped around a kernel of truth. The Spanish inquisition was indeed instituted by the secular Monarchy.

First off, it was based on Papal Inquisitions (which were remarkably similar); secondly its purpose was to ensure people upheld the Catholic Church’s doctrine; Thirdly it was established by a Papal Bull from Pope Sixtus IV. Crucially, the Catholic Church could have stopped it, but chose not to.

Seems like the Catholic Church has to shoulder a fair amount of the blame for this.

The Church, even though the true Church of Christ, is not made of perfect people. She is protected from ever teaching heresy, but this protection does not give those in charge a crystal ball, or the power to know more than the current times in which they live.

Wow. Huge dose of irony there. The Catholic church can never teach heresy, but because there is no crystal ball its teachings may change and even contradict previous ones.

You’ve got to love the logic that belief grants you…

As far as the actual numbers of those killed, no one has a real count. But we do know that over the years the number has increased in direct proportion to the number of anti-Catholics. Those who claim in the “millions” are way off base. Not even close, more likely in the thousands. But just to give you an idea:
The Spanish Inquisition, assuredly the most vigorous and corrupt of the various inquisitorial bodies that existed in Europe, held 49,000 trials between 1560-1700 and executed between 3 and 5,000 people.

Again, it starts off well but then gets all conspiracy theory.

Worryingly, Misty0408 seems to be implying that because the numbers killed were “only” in the thousands this makes it OK. The idea that any people were tortured to death on the orders of a “loving” church is monstrous.

Bit of number crunching: I assume Misty0408 got the figures from Spiritus-Temprois.com, which doesn’t break down by year. If we assume each year was equal, that means there were 350 trials a year. Almost one a day. 350 people tortured each year. Just because these only resulted in between 21 – 35 executions each year doesn’t make it better. For most the period in question, Spain had a population in the region of between 5.4 and 7.5 million (source: The Population of Europe, Table 1.1, p8, by Massimo Livi Bacci, Cynthia De Nardi Ipsen, Carl Ipsen). This means that around 1 in 20,000 people were tortured by the inquistion – that is the equivalent of 3000 people a year in the modern UK, or 15191 people in the US – being put on trial for heresy each year.

This may seem trivial when compared with modern incarceration rates (which may be as high as 1 in 136 people in the US), but these people were in addition to all the “normal” criminals. Their only crime was not following the Catholic Church’s orthodoxy.

Yes, they may have been imprisoned under the orders of the Secular monarch, but it was done for, and with at least some blessing of, the Catholic Church.

Too often religion claims to be cause behind people doing good deeds, but then when bad things happen the nature of “Man” is blamed. This is a massive fallacy. The atrocities of the Crusades and Inqusition may not have been carried out (entirely) by uniformed members of the Catholic Church but it is fully to blame for them. Its doctrine lead to these acts. Its leadership endorsed them. Its priesthood encouraged them.

It really is to blame.

Proof Of God – Christian Voice

Who would have thought Christian Voice would have cracked under the pressure of the No God bus campaigns in London? OK, most people I suppose. Still it is entertaining that they are riled by a simple poster to the extent they are demanding the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency to rule on the proof of God.

From the BBC:

An atheist campaign claiming “There’s probably no God” has been reported to the advertising regulator.
Posters with the slogan appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground.
But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

Pardon me for a moment while I fall off the chair laughing.

They are saying that the claim there is probably no god is insubstantiated and / or not truthful. How on Thor’s hammer do they intend to convince the ASA of this one wonders…

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: “There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.
“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

More laughter rings out around WhyDontYou Towers. Evidence for God exists in “personal experience” – surely this alone is a self defeating argument because if I do not have that experience the advertisement is accurate as stated. I do not have that personal experience, therefore (should the ASA be reading this) the banner is 100% correct. Thank you Christian Voice.

I assume Christian Voice have lodged similar complaints over any advertising that mentions non-Christian religions, so any posters for Mosques, Temples (etc) will have to come down. I would never suggest people be petty enough to go through Christian advertising with a fine tooth comb – each day on the way to work I see a huge poster telling me that I will die for my sins, where is the proof of that I wonder?

In a wonderful bit of understatement (and acting a lot more adult than Christian Voice…), Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what their decision is…

Darwin is not the atheist god.

In today’s Guardian, Madeleine Bunting has obviously run out of things to write about and pulled a bit of a weird post about atheists and Darwin to try and stir things up (and she has succeeded here at least :-) ).

With a peice titled “Darwin shouldn’t be hijacked by New Atheists – he is an ethical inspiration” she generates all manner of fallacies and incorrect statements. Interestingly, she achieves this without actually saying much at all. What a wonderful example of how you can fill four columns in a national daily newspaper with, effectively, nothing. She is writing about 2009 being the “Year of Darwin” (as well as Gallileo, but that is another story) and begins with what a “brilliant scientist” Darwin was, leading to this:

He is, Newton apart, the greatest British scientist ever, so it makes good sense for the British Council, among others, to use this as an opportunity to flag up the prestigious history of British science.

Now, I am sure there are many British scientists (living and dead) who would take offence at this. Darwin’s work (and Newtons) was indeed brilliant, but there have been many other examples of equal brilliance albeit in different fields. Lawrence Krauss, in New Scientist, states that “anyone who was looking could have seen that humans were animals” which is certainly true – Darwin’s brilliance was to have been looking…

Further on, Madeleine identifies one of the biggest worries about the state of British education (and possibly a reason behind the Year of Darwin):

What drives this anniversary is a missionary zeal to persuade and convince the public of the truth of Darwin’s great discoveries, because, astoundingly – despite the mountain of scientific evidence – there is still considerable scepticism and even hostility to this great Victorian. A poll for the BBC in 2006 found that less than half the British population accepted the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life.

Less than half. In a “largely” secular nation. Sad, isn’t it. I have some doubts of the figures, because I know of no-one personally who would say Evolution is false. For 30+ million people in the UK to think this, the chances of me never having met even one is pretty remote. While I personally feel the figures are somewhat inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. One person thinking the Sky Pixie shook magic dust out and life appeared is one too many.

From this point on, however, it goes downhill. Madeleine falls into the trap of thinking Darwin is the Atheist equivalent of Jesus. She seems to think that atheists require a historical icon to have been an atheist to support the cause. She seems to imply that Darwin has become the Old Testament Prophet of the New Atheism.

Utter nonsense but first some quotes:

In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century.

Where has this come from? Creationists initiated the battle against Darwin, invoking their god to strike down evolution. Religious people of almost all persuasions are happy to accept evolution as valid science. The catholic church has embraced the work of Darwin. How in the name of Wotan is Darwin the “standard bearer” for Atheism?

I actually think Madeleine has mistaken Darwin for Dawkins. Easily done, but a mistake none the less.

Yet bizarrely, the whole 19th-century collapse of faith is now pinned on Darwin.

Only by Creationists. Again, she is using the arguments of creationists against atheists. Madness. There have been atheists as long as there have been humans. We are born atheists and some are converted into theists. The Royal Society was full of non-theists who had nothing to do with Darwin. This is just nonsense you would expect to see on Rapture Ready or CARM.

The fear is that the anniversary will be hijacked by the New Atheism as the perfect battleground for another round of jousting over the absurdity of belief (a position that Darwin pointedly never took up).

The fear by creationists. What is this “New Atheism” thing anyway? What does it mean? Does it imply people have found a new way of not believing? Does it actually have any meaning or is it an underhanded way of taking a shot at Atheists? Is it an example of how some atheists hate their own lack of belief so much they feel the need to distance themselves from others? (This leads to a point excellently expressed on The Atheist Ethicist Blog)

Agnosticism is not a valid belief structure. You either believe there is a god, or you dont. There is no new way to not believe, just in the modern world people are less frightened of stating they don’t believe. It is not “militant atheism” any more than Songs of Praise is militant Christianity.

Next we have a sleight of words trick:

Many of the prominent voices in the New Atheism are lined up to reassert that it is simply impossible to believe in God and accept Darwin’s theory of evolution; Richard Dawkins and the US philosopher Daniel Dennett are among those due to appear in Darwin200 events.

Wow, this is good. There are two points here and she writes to imply they are heavily linked. She first tells us that people are lined up to assert that it is impossible to believe in a Deity (any deity) and accept Evolution and then mentions Dawkins. The implication is clear, Dawkin will be one of these people. This appeals on some levels, because Dawkins is an outspoken atheist (damn his eyes for having the temeretity to speak out….) but it is clearly written by someone who knows nothing of what Dawkins has said.

It is possible to believe in the Christian God and accept evolution. Evolution makes no claims on the origin of life. The Catholic church is happy that God planted the seeds and life evolved. See, it is easy. Evolution disproves a literal interpretation of the bible, but outside the more fundamentalist minds this is rarely found anyway. It is, largely, only devout creationists who feel that Evolution alone challenges God.

Science as a whole challenges belief. In the God Delusion, and during his TV shows and talks, Dawkins uses a vast array of scientific fields to challenge the existence of any deity. I can not think of a scientific disciple which does not provide information to show there is no [Wotan|Odin|Thor|Set|Dievas|Allah|Krishna| etc]. Astronomy and Geology rubbish any idea of a literal interpretation of the biblical creation theory. Evolution is but one strand. No one would say “hey, ignore everything else in science, the only thing that disproves the bible is the genetic similarity between humans and chimps” (or what ever variation you want).

However.

There is a group of people who do think Evolution is the only means by which God can be disproven. These people are convinced that the rest of the scientific stable supports the existence of god, and provides a framework for him to exist. These people also think Dawkins is the evil spokesman of “Darwinism” and these people use the term “New Atheism” to put down those uppity non-believers who have the cheek to speak out in public.

Creationists.

Madeleine Bunting’s article has been so heavily influenced by creationist thinking you could almost read it on CARM, Uncommon Descent or the like. Almost but not quite. The terms are creationis terms. The arguments are creationist-inspired. But the general tone is one of a non-believer. I suspect there is some element of lazy journalism here, or a creationist researcher, or both. Possibly, Madeleine Bunting is an “Old Atheist” – the sort who kept quiet, went to church, paid a tithe etc but didn’t have faith – or perhaps she is an “Agnostic” – an atheist who wont admit it – but either way, she is wrong about Atheism needing, wanting or having a standard bearer in the form of Charles Darwin.

Is this Britain?

In the past (“Emailing a myth“, for example) I have commented on how people send out emails which are basic rants by right wing Americans, but they change a few references and try to pass it off as meaning the same over in this green and pleasant land. It seems, however, that there is still a hard core of people who do not realise that the UK and the USA are different countries, and have different histories.

In the online edition of the Mail today (yes, I know, the only reason that you would buy the paper version is if you ran out of toilet paper), there is a comical ranting “news” item about a woman who is upset that the Nintendo version of Scrabble had some rude words in. From what I can see the words she objected to were tits, fuckers and shit. Oh, woe is me. The evil of language. Now, before I go on, I have no real issue with her for being upset. As the parent of a child under the age of majority, she really does get to decide what words her 8 year old is exposed to at home. I may think different words would be better, but I have no say in their house. It is comically likely that her 8 year old son is already fully conversant with all three words from the school playground but that is another conversation.

The only issue I have with this woman getting newspaper space to complain about this is the basic lack of parenting she shows. If she wants her son to learn new words, while still controlling what those words are, she needs to spend time with him. Real time. Talking and playing time. Not buying him a Nintendo and fucking him off to his room time. (mini rant over)

Predictably, the real comic value comes from the comments. I am sure the only reason rags like the mail have comments is so that idiots can stand up and think they are important. Equally predictably, it is the religious right that wade in. Look at this line in baffling idiocy:

No OUP, Britain is not a modern, multicultural and multi-faith country, it is an historic, British and Christian country and publishers like you do not have the right or the place to delete words from our language and replace them with one’s of your choosing!
Nigel, Somerset, 7/12/2008 12:14

Mindbogglingly, this has been rated “up” at over 30 times. Sadly for Nigel, pretty much everything he has said is wrong. It is hard for him to be more wrong. (I suspect this is the mail fucking up its comments and this was in response to a different article)

Britain is a modern, multi-cultural and multi-faith country. No matter how much he may want to cry otherwise. We have mosques. We have Hindu temples and Jewish synagogues. We pretty much cater for every current world religion to at least some degree. You can put your head in the sand and claim otherwise, but reality will prove you wrong every time.

Being “Historic” is not the polar opposite of modern. You can be a modern country with a long and proud history. In fact, Britain pretty much meets that, as do most countries with a “long and proud history.”

Saying Britain is British is comical, so I will ignore that, but saying Britain is a Christian country is interesting. Yes, we do have a state religion but you are not forced to subscribe to it. We are not a “Christian” country in any meaningful sense.

Lastly, this is the Junior Oxford English Dictionary. It is for young people. It has a limited set of words it can hold, so logic screams out that more popular words should be included. I dont agree with the word choices but I am more than capable of teaching my children the missing words. For the record these are the ones removed: (categories made by the Mail not me)

NATURE
Bluebell, budgerigar, cygnet, dandelion, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, kingfisher, magpie, marzipan, minnow, newt, piglet, primrose, starling, willow, wren.
CHRISTIANITY
Carol, cracker, holly, ivy, mistletoe, abbey, altar, bishop, chapel, christen, disciple, monk, nun, pew, saint, sin
HISTORY
Coronation, duchess, duke, emperor, empire, monarch, decade

Now I am intrigued why cracker is “Christian” rather than a food, but I suppose PZ Myers has a lot to answer for… At the end of the day, there will always be some words excluded. Get over it. There are more nature ones missing, and I very much doubt evolutionary biology terms get much space.

The next (and last) comic comment I want to poke is:

It is disgrace. This country is based on Christian principles and through these principles this country became prosperous. Why this country started hating itself? Who these modern politicians want to please by fighting Christianity? What is the ultimate aim of multiculturalism? We’ve had enough of this “modern” liberal nonsense.
Alex S, London UK, 7/12/2008 16:37

What blatant nonsense. What christian principles? Does Alex mean the invasion, enslavement and economic warfare that characterised a significan period of our history as Great Britain. Which Christian principles had the Irish subjugated, the Scots slaughtered and Catholics in hiding? What Chrisian principles allowed us to enslave half of Africa? Crucially, this is a country that has been in existence since long before Christ, so how can we be based on his teachings? Does Alex S think we have a pledge of allegiance and watch the superbowl?

I am not sure where Alex has aimed his comment, I can only assume it is also for the dictionary one. Removing some words with Christian connotations from the dictionary is not an attack on Christianity.

Why are Christians so quick to cry oppression and suppression?

A survey says

There’s a news item – which seems to appear everywhere from the UK’s Daily Mail and the Telegraph to the Indian Andrha News – which suggests that 54% of British people believe in God, compared to 58% who believe in UFOs*, ghosts and mediums.

Internal Pedant wanted to change that last plural to “media” but that would have been both confusing and blatantly absurd. Surely, even UFOnauts and fundies aren’t stupid enough to place much faith in “the media”.

If only this were true……. Abduction survivors have a mild comedy value. People who consult psychics victimise only themselves. None of them are likely to start pogroms or crusades or jihads or even complain when people are insulting to their beliefs. So what does it matter?

Trying to draw a quick mental Venn diagram of the intersection of sets, I realise that the overlap between believing groups could be almost total. Between 4% and 54% of the respondents must believe in both God and UFOs.

These intersecting set people must have to spend so much of their time and mental energy in believing stuff that they might as well be channelling Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, who managed to cram in believing six impossible things before breakfast

But, all these news stories say something like “according to a survey”. However, I can’t find one report with any references to who carried out this survey, what the questions were, how many people were interviewed or any of those dull facts that Ben Goldacre keeps reminding us to think about when we see survey reports in the media.

Plus,

“The findings, maybe somewhat unsurprisingly, have been issued to mark the DVD release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe” (from the Daily Mail)

That’s why I can’t find any links to the actual survey. It’s a publicity stunt.

Silly me. That’s what you get for believing in the media…..

* Normally, this means believing that unidentified flying objects are all secret Grey visitors from the planet zarg who will beam up rednecks and probe their orifices. Still, I have to admit to my own inability to identify more than a handful of flying objects. I confused a jay with a pheasant only last week. I can recognise a Cessna and a Spitfire and a Hurricane (from childhood model-building experiments) but otherwise they are all just planes.